WARSAW — Victoria Grey-Allen, the new executive director of Sarah’s Refuge Crisis Center in Warsaw, understands all too well the importance of the service the organization provides. As the survivor of an abusive domestic relationship, Grey-Allen said she is determined to spread the word about the often-silent trauma faced by women throughout the nation.
“I am a survivor of domestic abuse myself,” she stated. “Twenty-five years ago, I made a personal pledge that as long as I have breath in my body I will fight to protect women and children. The way I see Sarah’s Refuge for Duplin County is, when a man thinks of abusing his family, he’ll remember and think ‘No, I don’t want to do that. They won’t let me get away with it.’”
Grey-Allen, a native of Jamaica, took over her new role at Sarah’s Refuge on January16. Though she has family nearby in Sampson County, she said she chose the rural North Carolina setting after searching for a location that matched her former home in upstate New York, where she gained her initial experience in domestic violence work.
Upon her arrival in North Carolina last August, Grey-Allen said she initially did volunteer work at U-Care, a domestic violence center in Sampson County. Pamela Gonzalez, the center’s executive director, told her that, due to lack of funding, she would be unable to offer her a paid position. When Gonzalez heard about the executive director opening at Sarah’s Refuge, she informed Grey-Allen, who immediately applied for the position.
Grey-Allen said one her biggest challenges as the new director will be reaffirming the center’s original mission.
“Getting the community to re-embrace the passion and the commitment that started Sarah’s Refuge,” she stated, referring to the crisis shelter’s namesake, the grandmother of a former board member who opened her home to battered women. “It’s a challenge, but it’s not farfetched. The community’s already responding to the structural changes that Sarah’s Refuge has gone through.”
Asked to elaborate on those changes, Grey-Allen remarked, “We’re giving ourselves a facelift, bringing more structure to the program. We’re offering more and giving more to the community, and the community’s responding well to that. We’re reminding them of why this organization started in the first place, reaffirming what Sarah set out to do in 1993.”
Grey-Allen said one of her goals is informing not just the community, but state legislatures about the challenges faced by Sarah’s Refuge. “I have to inform them that it takes a village to raise a child, and the child we’re trying to raise is agencies like this who are committed to protecting its disadvantaged, its abused; teaching its upcoming generation to not perpetuate violence.”
While domestic abuse has been a well-documented problem for decades, Grey-Allen said many state and federal governments are only now beginning to understand its full significance. “It goes back to the ‘rule of thumb’: husband’s were allowed to discipline their wives with an object no thicker than their thumb. It’s not very long ago that that has changed. I think state-by-state legislatures and law enforcement are just starting to catch up.”
Sadly, said Grey-Allen, many authority figures still have a mindset that its still acceptable to “beat them (women) but don’t kill them. It’s changing that mindset that is proving difficult.”
Once domestic abuse is seen in the same light as murder and drug trafficking, said Grey-Allen, many of the more recalcitrant laws and attitudes will begin to change. “Unfortunately, it’s not coming fast enough,” she stated.
Comparing the degree of domestic violence in Duplin County to what she saw in New York, Grey-Allen commented, “Domestic violence is domestic violence; it’s the nature of the beast. Unfortunately, in New York there is more money, more resources, so that presents a challenge here.”
Commenting on financial difficulties faced by Sarah’s Refuge and similar organizations, Grey-Allen compared it to “many bowls trying to dip from the same, small bucket. We have to open the eyes of our legislatures and find new funding sources; bridging partnerships with organizations that can help.”
One of the main keys to breaking the pattern of abuse and gaining support will be through education, said Grey-Allen. “It comes through education; educating our communities about what domestic violence truly is and how they play a part in helping. It’s a big challenge; we need the support of everyone.”
To demonstrate that belief, Grey-Allen refers to a common saying on her birth island of Jamaica, “Every mikkle makes a muckle,” which translates to mean that every contribution will eventually pay off in greater abundance. “Every dollar helps,” she commented. “Every single dollar.”
Grey-Allen said she and her staff have developed a number of new fundraising ideas and grant propositions. “I’m not afraid to knock on anybody’s door and ask for help,” she stated. “We’re not asking for much, but we are asking everyone to embrace the same vision.”
As a representation of that vision, Grey-Allen points to an item she recently uncovered while cleaning her new office—a poster of a lighthouse which she plans to hang in the center’s lobby. “This is exactly how I see Sarah’s Refuge,” she remarked, “a lighthouse for Duplin County. We should guide victims to a life free of violence.”
Grey-Allen said Sarah’s Refuge has a Mother’s Day Ball fundraiser as well as a number of community education speaking engagements planed for the near future.
If she could give advice to young women concerning domestic abuse, Grey-Allen said she would tell them, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is; trust your gut. Look for red flags: if he’s overly jealous, if he tries to isolate you from friends and family, it’s not because he loves you too much. Love is supposed to be free.”
While she recognizes the challenges ahead, Grey-Allen said she is determined to carry out the pledge she made to herself two and a half decades ago.
“It’s a new day at Sarah’s: the staff embrace it, the board of director’s embraces it, and the community’s embracing it. The objective is to eradicate domestic and sexual violence one client at a time. That’s the mission